Why Minecraft? This. And how.

Grade 5 Minecraft Guild group photo in front of our Christmas present to the school, a giant snow globe. (Missing: Alec)
Grade 5 Minecraft Guild group photo in front of our Christmas present to the school, a giant snow globe. (Missing: Alec)

I lead a Minecraft Guild.

I chose guild over club to emphasize craftsmanship, because we build things and are guided by a code of conduct. We challenge and learn from each other. And I have a lot to learn about Minecraft.

It’s easy to be an apprentice. Minecraft is enormously engaging. Our guild has 10 members sharing 10 Minecraft.edu licenses, so it’s only when one student is absent from school that I get to muck in during meetings. If I have a question about how to do anything in Minecraft, I immediately have half a dozen students by my side, ready to assist me. Jack, a fifth grader, is our master craftsman. When I was visiting classrooms to publicize the guild, a student asked why a 10 year-old was going to teach the club instead of me, and before I could answer, his classmate answered more succinctly than I could – “Because Jack’s a beast at Minecraft!” It’s true.

Why Minecraft?

bloomsrevisedtaxomonyMinecraft engages all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, both traditional and revised versions. Guild members have memorized dozens of command codes, single lines and combinations, to customize Minecraft interface and constructions. They have learned through instruction and practice how the Minecraft world operates and have applied it to aesthetically wonderful and delightfully complicated constructions. They build up, tear down, and then build again to improve. And they create, create, create. Some students are building on interest piqued by the Grade 4 community unit, where they designed their own cities, and all are vanguard for the Grade 5 Area and Volume math investigation. All are involved because they love Minecraft.


Gaming and School Venn

Banish the mental image of a classroom of students hunched over their laptops, with no sound but the clicking of mice and keyboards. Our meetings are exuberantly social, with students flitting back and forth between friends and, more often, talking across the room. A little in your face, but it’s an engaged group of creative problem solvers, where, in the words of Dr. James Paul Gee, “the group is smarter than the smartest person in the group”. This creative chaos works, and avoids the Darwinian world of gaming, because our guild functions according to our essential agreements.

Essential Agreements

An evolving document, here are our guiding principles. Members of the Minecraft Guild:

  • Recognize that membership is a privilege
  • Treat each other, and each other’s’ Minecraft builds, with respect
  • Listen when necessary
  • Respect our own and other’s right to be heard and take turns speaking
  • Practice respectful and responsible time management – We Minecraft in class only with teacher permission

Student/Teacher/Home Partnership

Joining the Minecraft Guild requires three things from applicants, an interest (“Why do you want to join?”), some experience (“Email a screenshot of your best work.”, and a goal (“Why do you want to join?”). Students also had to compel their homeroom teacher and parents to email me with permission to join. The motivations for joining were far more diverse than I expected. Desire for fun creativity loomed large in their statements of interest, but also the chance to continue studies in coding and circuitry. Many praised the opportunity to practice Minecraft in a social setting as well, including one student, another master builder thanks for hours of self-study, who wanted to break out from the loneliness of building Minecraft by himself  at home.

Minecraft Guild reasons for joining
Aggregated answers to the question, “Why do you want to join the Minecraft Guild”. Word cloud built with Tagxedo.

Project-Based Learning


The snow globe takes shape, fuelled by fried rice.
The snow globe takes shape, determination fuelled with fried rice.

It would never occur to me to build a giant snow globe in Minecraft, but that’s what Jack suggested and his peers agreed. I love the idea. Over four lunchtime meetings, we framed out our glass skyscraper, and then populated it with spruce trees, villagers, snowmen, elaborately coded houses, and a fireplace. A Rube Goldberg-esque snow generator on the roof made for a convincing snow fall, but not at first, and not all the time, but guild members lived out the philosophy that FAIL simply means First Attempt In Learning.

Minecraft Winter Wonderland

What’s our next project?

Feel free to make suggestions in the comments. Then watch this space for further developments.

Maker Movement Musings

Photo by Ernesto Oroza.
“Cool bike! Where’d you get it?!” “I made it.” (Photo by Ernesto Oroza)


So many ways to think about Photo essay: The bizarre, brilliant and useful inventions of Cuban DIY engineers | PBS NewsHour.

Silly: I need to go to Cuba so I can be a better Design Teacher.

Twee: Cuba is a Maker Space!

Cliché: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Pedagogical: You want authentic projects? MYP Design provides a road map and this photo essay provides the inspiration, now add time and encouragement.

Realistic: Add work space to the above note. Space is always a consideration in Hong Kong.

Honest: I want to go curb shopping right now and build something.

Political: (No thanks. Read the comments on PBS.org if you want that.)

Challenged: I spend far too much on things, and throw away far too many things that could be repurposed.

Feel free to add more in the comments.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Gary Stager – here

photoLeon Botstein “Young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity.” Do something constructive with it.

How do we increase the intensity level at school? A more expansive level of computing.

My take: Computing isn’t being chained to a computer. It’s computational thinking. This requires making self-advocates out of learners. I push my students to brag on themselves – show your parents your work, tell them all the work, thinking, studying, trial-and-error that went into what you made.

*Building something is better than being passive.

Cardboard: The gateway drug. Love it:

“School is about giving kids access to the experience and expertise they need.”

Look What Joey’s Making

MIT Welcomes Makers with New Maker Portfolio

The Beauty and Joy of Computing

Question for Gary Stager: What would you put in a maker space?

  • 3D printer
  • More green walls
  • Cutters – lazer, vinyl (stickers, letters), wood
  • Makey Makey, arduino.
  • Recycled-to-upcycled materials
  • Quiet spaces
  • Advice: Don’t buy a lot at once – tech changes, prices change

*What isn’t building something:

  • Curriculum according to app availability
  • Only one hour of code
  • “This is what your project should look like when you’re done.” (Permissible when  process is the objective)

 My Experience

Inspired – I appreciate the boundaries provided by the MYP Design framework, and yet I know first hand how learners perform when minimal criteria are mandated but the field for creativity is wide open. How to allow that in Design?

Hopeful – For every student there is a unique trajectory – or there should be – so here’s hoping that school evolves to fulfil a mandate of revelation for the individual.

Creative – I am reminded again of Tom Kelley‘s anthropological exercise, What can I learn from watching _*__ in action?

  • *The Chef to his staff: “This is what the entree looks like. I don’t care what you do with the vegetables.” From which I brought to my classroom, “Here is what I need from you as your English teacher – show me you understand theme and can back up your assertion with evidence. It’s up to you how you do it.” This approach turned out the most creative and effective presentations in my ten year of teaching. I would like to do more of that in Design. Here’s a design challenge with design specifications – meet that need.
  • *The Toy Designers: Their workshop was an organised mess – a huge worktable surrounded by shelves of tools, materials, and general stuff, so that whenever inspiration struck, a potential solution was within reach. How to have both physical and virtual tinkering spaces?

Challenged – Friction: At what points do we step out of learners’ way so they have room to explore, learn from experience, and increase creativity, and when do we remember Luke on Modern Family, “I’m only 12! I need boundaries.”

Forward: Think globally. Act Locally.